Aldermen grant final OK to redevelopment of southeast corner of Watson, Old Sappington

By MIKE ANTHONY

Final approval of a proposal to redevelop the southeast corner of Watson and Old Sap-pington roads was granted last week by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen.

Ordinances approving a development plan and a development contract with Sap-pington Square, which is proposing a high-end boutique specialty center for the site, were approved Jan. 24 by the Board of Al-dermen. Sappington Square is proposing a nearly $12 million redevelopment of the 5.7-acre site that is comprised of six properties containing a muffler repair shop, two multi-tenant retail centers, two residential properties and a vacant lot.

The ordinance approving the development plan designates the area as blighted under provisions established by Missouri’s Chapter 353 statute, the Urban Redevelop-ment Corporations Law.

Aldermen voted 6-2 to adopt the ordinance with Ward 1 Alderman Richard La-Bore and board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2 opposed.

A study conducted by Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets concluded the redevelopment area was “blighted by reason of age, inadequate and outmoded design, and physical deterioration …,” according to the ordinance.

The ordinance approving the development contract provides for the use of eminent domain under Chapter 353. Aldermen voted 6-2 to adopt the ordinance with La-Bore and Trueblood opposed.

Sappington Square has five of the six parcels under control — roughly 93 percent of the proposed redevelopment area.

The only parcel not under control is a 0.53-acre parcel on the corner — 9596 Watson Road, the site of a Meineke Car Care Center. As proposed, Sappington Square would have four buildings with 58,500 square feet of retail space. One building would have 25,000 square feet, two buildings would have 16,000 square feet each and the fourth building would have 1,500 square feet with a drive-through. The developer is not requesting tax-increment financing for the project, but will seek the establishment of a Commun-ity Improvement District.

Sappington Square representatives have emphasized they will make every effort to avoid the use of eminent domain to ac-quire the remaining parcel.

During the meeting, Trueblood asked Mayor Roy Robinson, “Are you concerned, as I am, that if the board approves the request for a 353 that we are setting a precedent for future developers to expect the same when they come for a development in the city of Crestwood? Are we opening up the door to that if we agree to the developer’s request tonight for the eminent domain use?”

Robinson said, “Well, I’m glad you asked that question, Alderman Trueblood … Nobody in this city is more against using eminent domain than the gentleman sitting here as your mayor. I fought eminent domain, TIFs and everything else, and I think Alderman LaBore will remember that on the 66 Drive-In, I was almost by myself doing that … The fact is that it really disturbs me that we even talk about a 353. It goes against my principles. It goes against what I believe in. I don’t believe in taking anybody’s property.”

When he met with representatives of Sappington Square last spring, Robinson said he emphasized his personal opposition to eminent domain and encouraged them to make every effort to purchase the parcel that they did not control.

“I said it (eminent domain) is something that disturbs me greatly and I’m not one that bends the rules of my own self-convictions too easily,” the mayor said. “But I also recognize and I hope this board recognizes that we’re at a point in this city where we have to change — I have to let go of my beliefs a little bit for the benefit of this whole city because this is the one important piece of property that needs to be developed to save our city.

“And I say that because if we develop that one piece of property, it will have a rippling effect on our mall and it will have also an effect on the people who are looking to place their businesses in other locations. It shows, for one thing, that we are not dead. We are vital and we are able to rebuild our community. We have to ad-just,” Robinson continued.

“So even though I’m against the 353 and I hate eminent domain with a passion, I’m saying — I swore on this office that I would do what was in the best interest of this city, not my own personal views, and I hope each one of the aldermen take that in consideration when you’re looking at this project,” he said. “This is not your personal beliefs. It is what is going to get the city back on the road and this is one definitely important ingredient of getting us back. People who are in business have to see that we are rebuilding. We are getting new fa-cilities available for them, which is a drawing package, and this is the one step in that direction.

“And it’s worth taking the chance to see if this project goes. This is a good project. The people have been up front … There comes a time when you have to back off on your principles and do what’s best for this community, and I think this is one step. The tax increase is another one to get us out of debt …,” Robinson said.

Trueblood asked, “… If I heard you correctly, then you would be open to future 353s then?”

Robinson said, “Oh, you want to know about futures?”

Trueblood said, “That’s what I was really concerned about. If we open the door here to this … I’m thinking about down the road if we approve it.”

Robinson said, “… If you’re trying to get me to commit to future 353s, I’m not committed to anything. I’ll look at it … at that time how it benefits the city, and, once again, my principles are pretty strong. And to take away a business from a family or anybody that’s worked hard all the years, I’m not in the business of doing that. I’d probably fight you on that, but right now this is important …”

The mayor added that he has spoken with the city’s economic development specialist, Ellen Dailey, about assisting Meineke with finding another location in the city.

Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel later suggested postponing final approval of the matter to give the parties more time to ne-gotiate, but Ward 4 Alderman Joe O’Keefe pointed out that the Sappington Square proposal has come before the board on several occasions and no one representing the remaining parcel has addressed the aldermen about the situation.

“… As far as Alderman Miguel’s comments, I would agree with him if we had any indication from the people that own this property right now that they have a concern, and this isn’t the first time it’s been on our agenda, and then there’s no indication,” he said. “So I think we need to move forward and not hold this project up …”